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S.Korea holds major new drill as N.Korea raps ‘warmongers’

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:29 am

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea’s military Thursday held a live-fire drill involving tanks, artillery and jet fighters, in a major show of strength staged exactly a month after North Korea’s attack on a border island.


Washington expressed support for the live-fire exercise by its ally, the second this week, but Pyongyang criticised the South’s “puppet warmongers”.

AFP file – South Korean marines patrol Yeonpyeong island.

The South’s President Lee Myung-Bak, visiting a frontline army unit elsewhere, told troops to hit back hard for any new attack. He accused the North of letting its people starve while it spent money on nuclear bombs.


The exercise at the Pocheon range, 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the tense land border with North Korea, lasted about 40 minutes.


Some 800 troops took part along with 30 K-1 tanks, 11 K-200 armoured personnel carriers, two F-15K jets, four KF-16 jets, 36 K-9 artillery pieces, three multiple long-range rockets, four 500MD helicopters, three AH-1S Cobra helicopters, and other equipment.


The navy is also conducting a four-day exercise off the east coast, which began Wednesday.


The South says its drills are defensive. But tensions have been high on the peninsula since the North shelled a South Korean island near the contested western sea border on November 23.


The North said its shelling was in response to the South’s live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong island. The South said it had been staging such artillery exercises for 37 years and the North was seeking a pretext to attack.


Seoul staged a repeat drill on the same island on Monday, backed up by jet fighters and warships, but the North did not follow through with threats to hit back.


Some analysts said Seoul’s show of force deterred the North. Others said the hardline regime had been told by close ally China to exercise restraint before a visit to Washington by President Hu Jintao starting on January 19.


The military invited students and other civilians to watch the exercise.


“We are facing a crisis because of North Korea, so I came to see this air and ground operation,” Kim Tae-Dong, a 70-year-old Internet businessman, told a pool reporter.


“I want to feel and see the level of South Korea’s armed forces,” Kim said.


“Another North Korean provocation will happen. We should prepare our military perfectly for that.”


Analysts agreed, saying that while Pyongyang had shown restraint this time it was likely just biding its time for another military strike.


“It’s not a question of whether there will be another provocation, but when,” said Peter Beck, a North Korea expert with the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.


The North’s official news agency said the South’s claims that the drills are routine were an attempt “to conceal the provocative and offensive nature of the exercises”.


The wording was relatively mild. In another sign that tensions are easing, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had lowered a military alert issued for frontline areas before and during Monday’s drill.


Vulcan artillery vehicles fired into a wide valley with numbers carved on hills below to launch the show of strength.


Tanks raced along roads, firing as they went. A hillside blossomed smoke as artillery and rockets opened up.


Hovering helicopters fired rockets at targets, and F-15 aircraft dropped bombs into the valley, sending up huge plumes of smoke.


Lee, quoted by Yonhap news agency, said the military should retaliate without hesitation in case of another surprise attack.


The South’s military was heavily criticised for a perceived feeble response to last month’s attack. It has been stressing its battle-readiness and determination to hit back harder next time, using air power.


“We should make a stronger and bigger counter-strike so they cannot provoke us again,” Lee was quoted as saying.


“We’ve endured enough for long. We thought we could maintain peace on this land if we endured, but that was not the case,” Lee said. “Now we need to strongly retaliate to maintain peace, deter provocations and prevent war.”


People in the North, the president said, “are almost starving to death, and with the money spent to make atomic bombs, people can live”.


The United States, which has 28,500 troops based in the South, earlier warned North Korea there was no reason for it to respond to the latest drills.


White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the manoeuvres had been announced well in advance and were transparent and defensive, and “should in no way engender a response from the North Koreans”.

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Source: SGGP

S.Korea stays on guard despite N.Korea concessions

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2010 at 9:34 am

A wary South Korea stayed on alert Tuesday despite North Korea’s failure to retaliate for a live-fire drill, as the United States expressed scepticism about Pyongyang’s reported nuclear concessions.


Hours after the South defied North Korea’s threats to stage the exercise near the disputed sea border, the North’s military announced Monday it “did not feel any need to retaliate against every despicable military provocation”.

South Korean marines patrol on the South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong

The comments eased fears of war on the peninsula, following almost a month of high tensions.


The North used a similar artillery drill on Yeonpyeong island on November 23 as a pretext for a bombardment of the island which killed four people including civilians and damaged dozens of homes.


Pyongyang had threatened an even deadlier attack if Monday’s drill went ahead, only to change tack with an unusual display of restraint, which came after China blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to condemn the North.


The South’s military, accused of responding feebly to last month’s attack, said it would keep its guard up.


“This is the most serious crisis in our national defence since the (1950-53) Korean War,” Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin told parliament Tuesday.


“We are maintaining thorough military readiness at sea including Yeonpyeong island against possible provocations by the North,” Kim said, promising strong retaliation for any future attack.


The North’s softer stance coincided with apparent concessions on its nuclear programmes to visiting US politician Bill Richardson.


The New Mexico governor, a veteran troubleshooter with the North, said it had offered to re-admit UN nuclear inspectors and to negotiate the sale of fuel rods — capable of producing bomb-making plutonium — to a third party.


The North, Richardson said, had also proposed a military commission grouping the two Koreas and the United States to prevent conflicts in disputed areas of the Yellow Sea, and to reconnect a crisis hotline.


North Korea in April 2009 pulled out of six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and ordered US and UN nuclear inspectors out of the country. It staged its second nuclear test a month later.


The US State Department expressed scepticism.


“North Korea talks a great game. They always do. The real issue is what will they do,” said spokesman Philip Crowley.


“If they are agreeable to returning IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors to their country, they have to tell the IAEA that.


“We’ve seen a string of broken promises by North Korea going back many, many years.”


The South, deploying warships and jet fighters to guard against any counterstrike, went ahead with its artillery drill Monday after the UN Security Council failed to agree a statement to ease the crisis.


China blocked moves to criticise its ally the North for last month’s attack, diplomats said.

A senior Seoul government official said the North’s decision not to retaliate was partly swayed by diplomatic concerns.

“I think North Korea does not want to be diplomatically isolated and targeted by all (key) members of the Security Council,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official said recent provocations were linked to North Korean efforts to strengthen the status of Kim Jong-Un as eventual successor to his father, leader Kim Jong-Il.

Similar attacks were staged in the 1980s when Kim Jong-Il was trying to bolster his own status as a strong and capable future leader, he said. “This is the same situation, different people.”

The official also said the North may not have attacked on Monday because the South’s military was fully prepared. “North Korea has already implied it might be tempted to make another strike or provocation — we have to watch.”

Source: SGGP

S.Korea to go ahead with fire drill despite N.Korea threat

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 at 10:26 am

South Korea’s military said Saturday it would go ahead with a live-fire drill on a border island bombarded by North Korea last month, despite the North’s threat to strike back again with deadlier firepower.

A South Korean Navy vessel berths at a Movement Sea Base (MSB) off the South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on December 17, 2010.

But an AFP photographer on Yeonpyeong island said the atmosphere was calm and a media report said the one-day training exercise — scheduled for sometime between Saturday and Tuesday — may be delayed till next week.


“There is no change in our stance with regards to the live-fire exercise,” a defence ministry spokesman told AFP. “We cannot confirm… whether we will carry out the exercise today.”


The North threatened Friday to “deal the second and third unpredictable self-defensive blow” if the artillery exercise goes ahead.


“It will be deadlier than what was made on November 23 in terms of the powerfulness and sphere of the strike,” it said.


Pyongyang disputes the Yellow Sea border drawn after the 1950-53 war and claims the waters around Yeonpyeong and other frontline islands as its own maritime territory.


The November 23 bombardment killed two marines and two civilians and damaged dozens of homes. It came after a firing drill into the sea by South Korean marines based on the island.


The North’s latest warning sharply raised the stakes in the regional crisis.


Russia urged South Korea not to go ahead with the exercise and China, the North’s sole major ally, said it opposed any action that would raise tensions.


Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned South Korea’s ambassador Yu Woo-Ik Friday afternoon to express concern at the planned drill, Yonhap news agency quoted a diplomatic source as saying.


South Korea, outraged at the first shelling of civilian areas since the war, has fortified Yeonpyeong with more troops and artillery and vowed to use air power against any future attack.


Its military has said artillery will be aimed away from the North as usual during the upcoming drill, but it would respond strongly if provoked.


But a military source quoted by Yonhap said the firing might be delayed a day or two.


“Weather conditions are the most important factor in deciding the time for a drill. Early next week will be the most likely time to hold it because the weather should improve,” the source said.


Asked why weather was a factor, a military spokesman cited comments by a government source in Chosun Ilbo newspaper.


“The live-fire exercise itself will end in 1-2 hours, but since we have to prepare for North Korea’s provocation afterwards, there is a good possibility the exercise will be delayed to when the weather is good all day long,” the source was quoted as saying.


“It is highly likely that the drill will be held early next week.”


The South’s close ally the United States plans to send some 20 US soldiers to play a supporting role in the drill.


State Department spokesman Philip Crowley Friday again defended the South’s right to hold the drill in the face of North Korea’s “ongoing provocations”.


But he said Washington trusts that the South “will be very cautious in terms of what it does”.


Pyongyang’s disclosure last month of an apparently working uranium enrichment plant — a potential new source of bomb-making material — has also heightened regional security fears.


The North’s website Uriminzokkiri said the drill could spark nuclear war.


“It is clear if war breaks out again in this land, a grave nuclear disaster will take place which will bear no comparison to the Korean War.”


US troubleshooter Bill Richardson said he urged North Korean officials during his current visit to Pyongyang to let the South go ahead with the drill.


“I’m urging them extreme restraint,” the New Mexico governor told CNN, saying he was “very, very strong with foreign ministry officials” during a dinner on Friday.


“I think I made a little headway,” Richardson said. “My sense from the North Koreans is that they are trying to find ways to tamp things down.”


Analyst Andrei Lankov said that for the first time in decades, a new war appeared to be a distinct probability.


Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said the Pyongyang regime seemed determined to escalate provocations, and South Korean society was in “unusually bellicose mood” after the last Yeonpyeong attack.


But in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Lankov said “the hard truth is that restraint is the only option for South Korea”.

Source: SGGP

Foreign ministers of China, Russia consult on N.Korea

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm

The foreign ministers of Russia and China held telephone consultations Saturday over ways to ease the surging tensions on the Korean peninsula, the Russian foreign ministry said.


Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi “underscored the need to prevent a further escalation in the situation and to work toward conditions that can ease the tensions in the two Koreas’ relations and resume the six-party talks,” the ministry said in a statement.


Both countries are involved in the six-nation negotiations on the North Korean crisis, although Moscow’s close contacts with Pyongyang have waned considerably since the Soviet era.



 

Source: SGGP

N.Korea says ‘no-one can predict consequences’ of US drill

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea state media warned on Saturday that “no-one can predict the ensuing consequences” if a US carrier group goes ahead with a planned drill with the Republic of Korea (RoK) in the Yellow Sea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (C) visits the newly-built Soy Sauce Shop at the Ryongsong Foodstuff Factory in North Korea in this undated picture released by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency on November 24, 2010

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) statement came days after the hardline communist regime sharply heightened regional tensions with an artillery attack that killed two marines and two civilians on a RoK border island.


The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS George Washington and its battle group plans four days of exercises from Sunday with a flotilla of RoK warships in a show of force meant to deter Pyongyang.


The KCNA report labelled the United States “the arch-criminal who orchestrated the recent military clash”, in which RoK on Tuesday returned artillery fire at the North.


The report repeated Pyongyang’s claim that it attacked in response to RoK conducting a military exercise that lobbed shells into waters that the North regime regards as its own.


The KCNA report argued that its own “counter-shelling” was “a resolute and proper retaliation against the reckless military provocation of the enemy”, and argued that the US was then quick to take advantage of the clash.


“No sooner had the Yeonpyeong incident occurred than the US announced that it would stage joint naval exercises with the RoK puppet forces with nuclear-powered carrier George Washington,” the report said.


It went on to warn: “If the US brings its carrier to the West Sea of Korea at last, no one can predict the ensuing consequences”, using the Korean term for the Yellow Sea.


KCNA also said two civilian deaths from its artillery strike on the South were “if true… very regrettable” but also charged they had been used as “human shields” by being placed near artillery positions.



 

Source: SGGP

UN rights envoy warns N.Korea further isolating itself

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2010 at 11:21 am


SEOUL, Nov 26, 2010 (AFP) – The UN human rights envoy for North Korea warned Friday that the country is isolating itself at a time when it badly needs humanitarian aid.


Marzuki Darusman was on his first mission to South Korea since taking the post this year but, like his predecessor, was denied entry to the country formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).


“The DPRK should not find itself in isolation at a juncture when it needs the support and cooperation of the international community the most, both to address the human rights situation and the humanitarian needs,” he said.


Darusman was speaking days after the volatile regime fired a deadly barrage of shells and rockets at a South Korean island near the disputed sea border, claiming it had acted in retaliation to a military exercise being staged there.

A North Korean soldier on a naval vessel on the banks of the Yalu River some 70 kms north of the North Korean border town of Siniuju which lies across the river from Dandong in northeast China’s Liaoning province on November 26, 2010. AFP

The UN envoy noted that, after devastating floods hit the North in August, South Korea had offered 5,000 tons of rice and 250,000 bags of cement in humanitarian aid for victims in the impoverished country.


All such aid shipments have been frozen since the North launched its strike on the island of Yeonpyeong, which killed two marines and two civilians and wounding 18 other people.


It was the first shelling of civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War.


Darusman said that despite the outbreak of hostilities, “it is important to continue to provide such humanitarian assistance”, while ensuring that all aid distribution “reaches the neediest population”.

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Source: SGGP

N.Korea warns of more strikes, blames US as carrier heads in

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2010 at 5:20 am

SEOUL, Nov 25, 2010 (AFP) – North Korea on Thursday blamed the South and the US for provoking its artillery bombardment and warned it was ready to strike again, as a US carrier headed in for war games off the tense peninsula.


World powers agonised over how to deal with the volatile and nuclear-armed communist regime over its attack on a Yellow Sea island, in what one veteran North Korea watcher labelled a diplomatic “problem from hell”.


Isolated North Korea charged in a statement that “the US can never evade responsibility for the recent exchange of fire”, which saw four people killed when Pyongyang’s forces shelled the island in disputed waters on Tuesday.

An armed North Korean soldier (L) and civilian talk on the banks of of the North Korean border town of Siniuju across the Yalu River from Dandong in northeast China’s Liaoning province on November 25, 2010. AFP

“If the warmongering South Korean puppets fail to return to their senses and commit another reckless military provocation, our army will carry out second and third rounds of powerful physical retaliatory strikes without hesitation.”


The warning came as the US and South Korean navies plan to hold a four-day naval exercise in the Yellow Sea from Sunday that will involve a strike group headed by aircraft carrier the USS George Washington.


Although the show of allied maritime firepower had been scheduled well before this week’s attacks, the US military said, it would also demonstrate the US “commitment to regional stability through deterrence”.


South Korea also said Thursday it would “sharply increase military forces, including ground troops, on the five islands in the Yellow Sea and allocate more of its budget toward dealing with North Korea’s asymmetrical threats”.


Enraged by the first shelling of its civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea was still counting the cost of the attack on Yeonpyeong island, which lies near the tense post-war sea demarcation line.


The explosions that shattered the calm of the remote islet killed two marines and two civilians, wounded 18 others, left 22 buildings in charred ruins and sent hundreds of terrified residents fleeing to the mainland.


US President Barack Obama has pledged to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with ally South Korea, where 28,500 American troops are stationed, facing off across a Cold War era frontier.


The world has often been baffled by the regime ruling impoverished North Korea, which has staged two nuclear tests, fired missiles over Japan and this month showed off to a US academic a modern new nuclear facility.


Many observers believe Tuesday’s attack was meant to highlight the military credentials of the leader-in-waiting — Kim Jong-il’s little-known 27-year-old son Kim Jong-Un, who two months ago took a key military post.


North Korea has also rejected a proposal by the US-led United Nations Command, which supervises the armistice, to hold military talks on the attack, Yonhap news agency reported citing a South Korean defence official.


While the US, European powers, South Korea and Japan have long pushed hard to sanction the regime, China and Russia have favoured a softer line with Pyongyang, a Cold War era ally and neighbour to both.


When an intergovernmental expert panel found that a North Korean submarine in March torpedoed and sank a South Korean corvette the Cheonan, killing all 46 sailor aboard, China refused to blame the Pyongyang regime.


Premier Wen Jiabao said in Moscow that “China is firmly committed to maintaining the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and opposes any provocative military acts”.


It was not clear whether Wen was referring to the North Korean shelling or to the planned US-South Korean military exercises. Beijing has bitterly opposed similar war games there in the past.


North Korea expert Peter Beck, with the US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “In the wake of the Cheonan sinking, Beijing showed us that they are more than willing to put up with Pyongyang’s worst behaviour.”


“Given that this incident brings us closer to the brink of war than the Cheonan, Beijing might conclude that enough is enough and quietly put their foot down, but I am not holding my breath.”

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Source: SGGP

N.Korea blames South over attacks, says ready to fire again

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2010 at 1:20 am

SEOUL, Nov 25, 2010 (AFP) – North Korea again blamed the rival South for provoking a deadly artillery attack on a border island and warned that it stood ready to strike once more.


The country, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), said it fired a barrage of shells Tuesday because South Korea’s military had failed to call off a military exercise in disputed waters.


“The DPRK that sets store by the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula is now exercising superhuman self-control, but the artillery pieces of the army of the DPRK, the defender of justice, remain ready to fire,” a government statement released late Wednesday said.


North Korea killed at least four people when it fired 80 shells on to Yeonpyeong island, which lies near the disputed Yellow Sea border.


Pyongyang does not accept the UN demarcation line running through maritime territories which was drawn after the 1950-53 Korean war.


In a statement attributed to a foreign ministry spokesman, the North reiterated its case that Seoul provoked the attack by carrying out live-fire exercises on the island that sent shells into waters claimed by the North.


“The enemy fired shells from the islet which is so close to the territory of the DPRK that it is within each other’s eyeshot,” it said.


“This powder-reeking sabre-rattling cannot be construed otherwise than a politically motivated provocation.”


North Korea said that when South Korea went ahead with the exercise after repeated requests to halt it, it was forced to retaliate.


“The army of the DPRK (North Korea) took such a self-defensive measure as making a prompt powerful strike at the artillery positions from which the enemy fired the shells as it does not make an empty talk,” it said.

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Source: SGGP

High alert as N.Korea fires artillery on South

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 4:50 am

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells onto a South Korean island on Tuesday, killing one person and triggering an exchange of fire as southern armed forces went on their highest state of alert.


In what appeared to be one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-53 war, South Korea’s government convened in an underground war room and air force jets were reportedly scrambled to the Yellow Sea island.

South Korean marines are seen during a drill on Yeonpyeong island in the disputed Yellow Sea. AFP

The firing came after North Korea’s disclosure of an apparently operational uranium enrichment programme — a second potential way of building a nuclear bomb — which is causing serious alarm for the United States and its allies.


Some 50 North Korean shells landed on the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong near the tense Yellow Sea border, damaging dozens of houses and sending plumes of thick smoke into the air, YTN television reported.


One South Korean Marine — part of a contingent based permanently on Yeonpyeong island — was killed, the military said.


The military said 13 Marines were injured and YTN said two civilians were also hurt.


“A North Korean artillery unit staged an illegal firing provocation at 2:34 pm (0534 GMT) and South Korean troops fired back immediately in self-defence,” a ministry spokesman told AFP.


“A Class-A military alert issued for battle situations has been imposed immediately,” the spokesman said.


One island resident, Lee Jong-Sik, told YTN: “At least 10 houses are burning. I can’t see clearly for the smoke. The hillsides are also on fire.


“We were told by loudspeakers to flee our homes.”


Yeonpyeong lies just south of the border declared by United Nations forces after the inconclusive war six decades ago, but north of the sea border declared by Pyongyang.


The Yellow Sea border was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and last November.


Tensions have been acute since the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which Seoul says was the result of a North Korean torpedo attack. Pyongyang has angrily rejected the charge.


In late October, North and South Korean troops exchanged fire across their Cold War border, coinciding with a state of high alert for the South’s military in the buildup to the G20 summit of world leaders in Seoul earlier this month.


South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak convened an emergency security meeting in response to the latest incident, a presidential spokesman said.


“He is now in an underground war room to discuss possible responses with ministers of related agencies and national security advisers,” the spokesman told AFP.


Lee urged the officials to “handle it (the situation) well to prevent further escalation”, the spokesman said.


The firing comes after Kim Jong-Un, the little-known youngest son of Kim Jong-Il, was officially recognised as number two in North Korea’s political system, clouding outsiders’ view of its military and nuclear intentions.


The new crisis erupted as a US special envoy headed to China Tuesday to seek its help in curbing North Korea’s new nuclear project, revealed to US experts who described a sophisticated programme to enrich uranium.


Stephen Bosworth has also visited South Korea and Japan this week to discuss the disclosure, which US officials say would allow the isolated North to build new atomic bombs.


Bosworth, speaking in Tokyo, ruled out a resumption of stalled six-nation talks — aimed at disarming the North of nuclear weaponry in return for aid and other concessions — while work continues on the enrichment programme.


China chairs the talks and is also the North’s sole major ally and economic prop. It has come under pressure to play a leading role in resolving the latest nuclear dispute.


China appealed for the six-party talks to resume after the new revelations, and expressed concern over Tuesday’s cross-border firing.


“We have taken note of the relevant report and we express concern over the situation,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.


“We hope the relevant parties do more to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” he said. Russia also warned against an escalation of tensions on the peninsula.

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Source: SGGP

N.Korea ready to provide torpedo sample over warship sinking

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 8:43 am